OUTER BANKS, N.C. (WAVY) — Over the past ten years, North Carolina and other agencies have spent $72 million restoring parts of N.C. 12, not including bridge projects.
Officials in Dare County agree it’s time for some permanent solutions. They created a new task force earlier this year to tackle the problem.
The drive down N.C. 12 south of the Basnight Bridge is scenic with sand dunes lining the roads alongside views of the ocean and sound.
“Highway 12 is so beautiful on Hatteras Island, those views, but it also makes it vulnerable,” said Dorothy Hester with Dare County.
Each time a strong storm hits, the road will get washed out, closing off the southern Outer Banks to the rest of the world — sometimes for days at a time. Officials say the repeated closures negatively imact the life, health, safety and welfare of residents and visitors to Hatteras Island and Ocracoke Island.
“It’s the one lifeline that connects Hatteras Island to the mainland, Ocracoke to the mainland,” explained Tim Hass with the North Carolina Department of Transportation.
With the Atlantic waters warming and presenting the threat of more frequent and stronger storms, officials want to find permanent solutions. That’s where the new task force comes in.
The task force includes the Southern Environmental Law Center, North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Coastal Management, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, NCDOT and other state and federal agencies.
The goal is to developing a plan to maintain N.C. 12 to ensure sustainable access for the residents, property owners, and visitors to Dare County and Hyde County.
They’re tackling seven hot spots south of the Basnight Bridge down to Ocracoke.
The new Jug Handle Bridge in Rodanthe is an example of a permanent solution. The $145-million, 2.5-mile-long bridge will bypass the problematic “S-Turns” area.
“The Basnight Bridge and the new Rodanthe Jug Handle Bridge are built in a way that if need be, they could eventually be connected,” said Hass.
Expensive bridges are not the only answer. Hass pointed to other types of solutions the task force will consider in places like Ocracoke.
“We could elevate the road a little bit. We could move the ferry terminals a little further south and just let that part of the road go,” he said.
So, who will pay for these solutions?
“It is going to take time and it is going to take money. Once we know what’s needed and what it’s going to cost it makes it easier to reach out to partners and find ways to fund it,” said Hester.